Night net null Coming off a Super Bowl appearance that concluded a dominant 2015 campaign, the Carolina Panthers gave their fans plenty of reasons for long-term optimism heading into the 2016 season.That optimism was extremely short-lived, however, as the Panthers’ thud of a 2016 season got off on the wrong foot the m
oment Graham Gano’s would-be game-winning field goal missed wide left in their opening night Super Bowl rematch against Denver. But that season was written off as fluke, thanks to injuries and inexplicable regression. The real Panthers would be back in 2017, they said. And, as predicted, the team rebounded in 2017 to go 11-5 and make the playoffs, again suggesting long-term success was possible, perhaps probable. Alas, sustained success will have to wait at least another year, as the team's impressive 6-2 season in 2018 devolved into a losing record after seven straight losses. It was disappointment for Christmas in Carolina.MORE: "Monday Night Football's" mid-life crisis But disappointment is nothing new for Panthers fans. That’s because the franchise is keeper of one of the more odd factoids/mysteries in football: The Carolina Panthers, despite talent, despite promise and despite multiple playoff appearances, have never achieved back-to-back winning seasons.Never. Not a single time in 23 seasons. And while certainly not that big of a deal (outside Carolina, at least), it certainly is one of those oddities that makes you scratch your head.It’s even more odd when you consider that, from 2013-2015, the Panthers were three-time defending NFC South champions. To say that another way, the Panthers won their division three years in a row and still managed to not have two straight above-.500 seasons. That’s impressive.Overall, the Panthers have six division titles and two conference championships among their eight playoff appearances since entering the league in 1995. But consistency has never been their thing, unless you want to call them consistently inconsistent.Even in recent years, when players such as Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly have made Carolina an exciting team to watch, fans have never really known what to expect coming into a season. Even after that incredible Super Bowl run and Newton’s MVP season in 2015, many fans were hesitant to give a full-throated prediction of success the next season. That's because they knew better. And, it turns out, they were right. Again.MORE: All-time greatest Carolina PanthersYes, Panthers fans know in their heart of hearts that success in Carolina, no matter how promising things appear on paper, is often fleeting.Here’s a look back at the head-scratching outcomes:1996: 12-4 (won division, advanced to NFC title game)1997: 7-9 (finished second)—2003: 11-5 (won division, advanced to Super Bowl)2004: 7-9 (finished third)—2005: 11-5 (finished second, advanced to NFC title game)2006: 8-8 (finished second)—2008: 12-4 (won division, eliminated in divisional playoffs)2009: 8-8 (finished third)—2013: 12-4 (won division, eliminated in divisional playoffs)2014: 7-8-1 (won division, eliminated in divisional playoffs)—2015: 15-1 (won division, advanced to Super Bowl)2016: 6-10 (finished last)—2017: 11-5 (finished second, eliminated in wild-card playoff)2018: 7-9 (finished third)Granted, nothing’s ever guaranteed for any team in the Night net. Injuries, suspensions and players leaving to play elsewhere can alter a team’s perceived path in a relatively short time. Still, this drought that Carolina's on is pretty weird. And after squandering their 6-2 start in 2018, the Panthers and their fans are left to wonder yet again why back-to-back winning seasons elude their team.MORE: Latest Night net Power RankingsThe Panthers’ average span between winning seasons has been three years, the longest drought being seven years, the shortest just one year. Recent seasons have produced a win-one, lose-one outcome, suggesting 2019 will be successful.Fans would cherish it for sure. Because they know that the next season holds no guarantees — except, perhaps, a guarantee of resigned uncertainty.This column has been updated since its initial publication in 2017 because the Panthers have again made it necessary.